Metabolism of dietary soy isoflavones to equol by human intestinal microflora--implications for health

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jul;51(7):765-81. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200600262.


Soy isoflavones have received considerable attention. Individuals with isoflavones-rich diets have significantly lower occurrences of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and some cancers. The clinical effectiveness of soy isoflavones may be a function of the ability to biotransform soy isoflavones to the more potent estrogenic metabolite, equol, which may enhance the actions of soy isoflavones, owing to its greater affinity for estrogen receptors, unique antiandrogenic properties, and superior antioxidant activity. However, not all individuals consuming daidzein produce equol. Only approximately one-third to one-half of the population is able to metabolize daidzein to equol. This high variability in equol production is presumably attributable to interindividual differences in the composition of the intestinal microflora, which may play an important role in the mechanisms of action of isoflavones. But, the specific bacterial species in the colon involved in the production of equol are yet to be discovered. Therefore, future researches are aimed at identifying the specific bacterial species and strains that are capable of converting daidzein to equol or increasing equol production.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Equol
  • Female
  • Glycine max / chemistry*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Isoflavones / metabolism*
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology
  • Male


  • 4',7-dihydroxy-3,4-dihydroisoflavone
  • Isoflavones
  • Equol
  • daidzein